The Koestler Trust: Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

  • Our Impact

Life Through a Lens, The Hellingly Centre, Painting 2018

Our Impact

The annual Koestler Awards are simple and powerful

We reward achievement, build self-confidence and open new horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Scott’s Superheroes,  HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Parc, Gill Hope Retirement Highly Commended Award for Craft 2018

We seek to harness the uniquely transformative power of the arts to motivate prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives.

Through submitting work to the Koestler Awards, entrants are given feedback on their work, recognition for their achievements and a chance to have their work displayed at our annual exhibition at Southbank Centre and regional exhibitions across the UK. They can also benefit from art sales and our mentoring scheme, which pairs recently released prisoners with arts professionals to support them in continuing their creative practice in the community.

For many entrants, external encourgement can be a vital stepping stone in building self-confidence, positive relationships and engaging with education. 91% of our entrants told us that entering the Koestler Awards improved their self-confidence.

I had worked so hard trying to earn a place in your exhibition last year. I set a goal, promising my mum I would give it everything I’ve got and when you invited her up again that meant I had actually set myself a target and reached it and I’ve never done that before. The sense of self-worth that has given me is a big part of the reason I’m doing so well now on this 12 steps programme… it has changed the way I look at myself and the way others look at me.

Exhibited artist 2018

We evaluate all our work for quality, value for money and impact. Each entrant to the Koestler Awards is asked to complete monitoring and evaluation forms so we can measure how we’re performing, and listen to entrants’ views on how we can better support their participation in the arts. Our steering groups, staff and volunteers include ex-Koestler entrants.

We have a relationship with Victim Support, the charity that supports victims of crime, and have held events for their staff and volunteers at our Southbank Centre exhibitions and worked together to curate our 2010 UK exhibition. When we sell artworks on behalf of our entrants, a donation of 25% is made to Victim Support.

Engaging the public in debate and in developing our work is important to us. All our exhibitions feature Audience Feedback Cards, on which visitors can write feedback to be sent directly to the artists, and which act as votes towards Audience Choice Awards.

We are very happy to share reports on all aspects of our work, including our exhibitions and outreach work. We are delighted to share our 2017–2018 Impact Statement, showing our achievements in one of the most challenging years yet for the prison estate. Click below to take a look.


2017 – 2018

7,105

award entries in 52 art categories

3,616

award entrants

2,224

awards won

282

prisons, secure hospitals, children’s homes and immigration removal centres

96

expert judges including Jeremy Deller, Hot Chip, Reggie Yates and Emma Bridgewater